Friday, February 7, 2014

Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children's letters - sometimes very hastily - but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, 'Dear Jim: I loved your card.' Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, 'Jim loved your card so much he ate it.' That to me was one of the highest compliments I've ever received. He didn't care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it. (Maurice Sendak)

Being a kid in the California summer was fun! Nothing was planned for you. You just went out after breakfast to play with the neighborhood kids, and then you'd come home for lunch, and then you'd go out and play some more, and then you'd come home for dinner, and then you'd play some more with the neighborhood kids until you heard your Mom calling you. What luxury!

One day we all went over to Jan's house and played "Indians." But Jan didn't want to be an Indian. She wanted to be a cowboy! So one of the kids said, "OK! Then we'll tie the cowboy to the stake!" It seemed good to all of us, so we did. We found her jump-rope and tied her to the metal post of her swing-set, and then we ran away when she started to yell. As soon as we got to the front yard, we forgot about her! My little brother said, "Let's go find worms," so we went down to Gary's house. He said he had good worms! 

We sat on the curb with our feet splayed out over the eternal trickle of water that always seemed to run along the edge of all Culver City curbs, and Jack, my brother, found a worm. Now worms were not my favorite creature... For one thing, they had no eyes...  Jack brought the worm over to the curb's edge and put it in the water.

"They don't swim!" I said. "But the teacher said that if you cut a worm in two, both sides will still be alive!" 

"No, sir!" said Jack.

"Yes, sir!" said I. So we tried it.

There was a tin-can lid lying nearby, and it was a perfect disection tool. I would be the scientist! I cut him in two. We all stared at the two sides, and they both wiggled! AHA! Wonder if you could do it again... YUP, the four sides wiggled! I'd created FOUR worms, and I hated worms! I think by the time we had 16 "worms," they were all dead, though. And then we heard the screaming from Jan's Mom!

"YOU KIDS, COME HERE...RIGHT THIS MINUTE!!!"

When you're just a kid, ALL adults have the right to yell at you and "tell your Mother on you." That's a known fact! They might even have the right to spank you, too... who knew?

"YOU TIED JAN TO THE SWINGS! I'M GOING TO TELL YOUR MOTHERS! DON'T YOU EVER DO THAT AGAIN OR YOU'LL BE VERY, VERY SORRY!"

I was already very, very sorry! In fact, I was crying and ran home. NOT because we'd tied Jan to her swing-set. NOT because her Mom was going to tell my Mom. And certainly NOT because Jan had a swing-set, and we didn't. I was crying because I knew that I would never be able to go to "Peter's Pool" again!

"Peter's Pool"... now that was a very special treat, and only Jan had the key to it. All was lost!

I can't remember how, but Jan and her family were distantly related to Joe Pasternack, the famous Hollywood movie producer at MGM Studios. Jan's Dad was an assistant director there, and I even saw his name on the credits of a movie once! The famous Joe Pasternak, nominated for two Oscars, had a son named Peter, and Jan was invited to come to Beverley Hills and swim in "Peter's Pool" once in a while. Because Jan was an only child, and because I was usually nice to her when we played together, she'd invite me to come along. My brother would come, too, and off we three would go in Jan's Mother's car in our bathing suits to Beverley Hills for an afternoon of swimming.

To give you an idea of where we started from on Berryman Avenue in Culver City, here was our house:





To give you a clearer picture of where "Peter's Pool" was situated, here was Mr.Joe Pasternak's home in Beverley Hills:




When we'd arrive, we'd come through the front door into the living room of that grand house and walk past a gracefully-curved stairwell where there was a white panel on the wall. That panel had buttons to punch for the "up-stairs maid" and for the host of other maids that were on those premises! Just once I asked if I could use the bathroom, and I was allowed into that first-floor "powder room." Our entire Kingston house was the size of Mr. Pasternak's first-floor guest bathroom!  

The walk through the living room always seemed endless, but we'd finally reach the glass doors to the backyard, sometimes with Peter, himself, leading the way. The perfectly mowed yard seemed acres long, and there was no pool to be seen. At the end of our hike, there was a slope that you'd walk down, and there it was! "Peter's Pool!" We'd swim and splash and dunk and paddle and play with beach balls and ride on rafts until that fatal call, "Kids, come in now! We're leaving!"

Once, when we arrived at the Pasternack mansion, Mr. Joe Pasternack, HIMSELF, dressed in a dark business suit and dark socks, was lying on the couch, his back to us, taking a nap. We were sternly warned NOT to wake him. We all walked on tip-toes across that plush carpet that swaddled our feet, heading for the "back 40" to swim.

I can attest to the fact, under oath, that Mr. Joe Pasternak, Hollywood producer of 90 movies (like "Love Me or Leave Me," "Where the Boys Are," and "The Courtship of Eddie's Father") snored!




The rest of that summer I was relegated to swimming at the Culver City Community pool. Our city pool was the same size as the Pasternak pool, but, boy, was it crowded. I had fun, but it wasn't nearly as exciting as tip-toeing past a celebrity, trying not to wake him, and surely not as tempting as passing a wall-panel that would produce a maid who'd probably curtsey if you pushed the button... no, not nearly as exotic!

Not to worry, though. Jan forgave me, and by the next summer we were begging our Moms to drive us to the Culver City Roller Rink. By then, going roller skating seemed lots more exciting and grown-up than swimming in "Peter's Pool!"   

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